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Spencer Holmes


Managing Director and Training Consultant

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A Place for Directive Coaching


 Continuing the theme of linking what I'm learning as a fledgling marathon runner to what I do for a living (project management training, mostly). Today I'm musing on the support I'm getting from specialists in the field.

Before I make my views clear, I need to express what might be a controversial view on the role of coaches in business. In my experience many are a waste of time. There, I've said it. This doesn't, of course, mean I don't think there's a place for that sort of function, but so many I come across don't seem to be able to contribute much more than a battery of questions. Never having lived, worked or done particularly well in the environment or pressure their coachees are surrounded by.

So, you might fairly say, that's the point stupid! Or if you're a coach you may say, "that's an interesting point, tell me more about what you mean by "a waste of time".

A discussion on the tube with a very successful business leader brought it to light. They had recently been coached and was flabbergasted at the process. "If all they're going to do is keep asking me questions they can write them down and email them to me" was his point. Now, I realise the process is more dynamic than that and that a well timed and structured question could unlock the killer insight, but I did have some sympathy with his frustration.

So, my point. I was injured over Christmas and harbouring serious doubts over my ability to cover the 26.2 miles in 4 months' time. I then met Helen Privett, a specialist in marathons, triathlons and the like. In particular Helen knows a lot about barefoot running, my specific area of interest. Within 5 minutes she had diagnosed a pretty technical biomechanics issue but continued to ask relevant, intelligent questions for a further 30 minutes. She then fixed the issue with a very simple intervention and stuck around to make sure the fix was right.

Again, I know this example is maybe more clear cut than some business challenges that are more ambiguous and opaque. However I do prefer the situational leadership model that positions "coaching" as a style that combines high levels of both supportive AND directive styles. If Helen had just asked questions I'd have been none the wiser as to how to improve and had she just directed (the old medical model) I may have not felt inclined to spend so much time with her.

So, let's have more coaches who've walked the walk so, at the right moment, an inch of wisdom can create a mile (or 26) of progress for the coachee.

4 Responses

  1. How much do they need to know?

    Hi Spencer


    Interesting point you make, and well done for having the courage to make it! It resonated well with me, and for sure I have met several business coaches who to my mind lacked the credibility and personal experience to be able to offer what I would deem to be meaningful coaching in the fields they worked in.

    Having said that, a word in their defence:  someone once shared with me a very useful metaphor to characterise the difference between coaching and mentoring:  a mentor is someone who is travelling the same road as you, but is further down it and knows where the bumps and potholes are.  A coach is not on the same road, but travelling a parallel one to the coachee.  Do they need to have experience in the filed on order to be able to coach it? 

    I would argue that in some cases they do need it, most likely in what I would call technical coaching.  But for Life coaching, perhaps the fact that they are ont on the same road can be helpful?  One of the best coaching sessions I ever experienced was given to me by someone who knew very little about my field, but helped me to see it for what it was, leading to a breakthrough in my career development.

    So, I take your point but dont think it applies to all fields of coaching.

    Thanks for raising the issue!





     — [email protected]

  2. Coaching for perfomance

    Spencer, I’d have to agree with you, my experience of receiving the "barrage of questions" got me thinking…how is this useful. Successful coaches provide more direction and support in turning those thoughts into actions. The same is true in the training room. I have had the opportunity to see many a middle aged, washed up, mediocre trainer deliver uninspiring training sessions that fail to deliver business results.  More recently I have been working with the RNLI on leadership coaching using emotional intelligence and personal examples of my experiences managing environmental projects with Raleigh International (deep in the jungle of Costa Rica for three months) really helped deliver tangible changes and real business results. See for yourself how Making the Link training had an impact on results for the RNLI

    Good luck with the marathon!

    Kind regards

    Mike Ponting

  3. Coaching

     Thanks Mike

    I think we are travelling a similar road on this one and I am in part simply rattling a cage to see what stirs. I realise, from a bit of exposure to counselling, that non direction has its place and if it worked for you I certainly respect that.

    I guess that’s the problem we’ll always have with coaching, barriers to entry do not exist and, because no proof of intelligence or experience is necessarily demanded, some will get through without either!

    I appreciate the comments and as always the opportunity for some friendly sparring


  4. Coaches

     Thanks Mike

    I know from experience you have a number of exciting ways of cutting to the chase in your coaching tool set. I also know others would learn volumes from your Raleigh experiences – where can we find out more?



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Spencer Holmes

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